ISLAMABAD, Sept 11: With high rates of rejection of Pakistani food products in markets of the European Union and the United States because of non-compliance of standards, an early enforcement of the Food Safety Bill and Pesticide Act was called at a briefing on pesticide residues in exportable horticulture given by agriculture experts here on Monday.

The Food Safety Bill which was made public in June this year, is aimed at enforcing Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures and compliance and the establishment of a National Food Safety, Animal and Health Regulatory Authority at federal level to work with its sister departments in provinces.

The briefing was hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The bill and the act have now become shuttlecocks between government departments and the Council of Common Interests (CCI) before moving to parliament. All progress made in the enforcement of the two laws was shelved following devolution of the ministry of food and agriculture.

The delay in the enforcement of laws was causing heavy losses to national economy besides keeping the standard of food products low.

According to the Trade Standards Compliance Report of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), 176 food products from Pakistan faced rejection at borders of European Union countries, 1058 products at US borders and 137 products at Australian and Japanese borders. Among 10 major causes for rejection were, presence of pesticide residues, microbiological contaminants, heavy metals, filthy and unclean appearance, and unauthorised use of food additives.

Dr Ali Abbas Qazilbash, a senior official of the UNIDO-EU joint Trade-Related Technical Assistance Programme in Pakistan, explained causes which said included lack of integrated regulatory framework to address food safety/SPS compliance measures, poor information dissemination level to consumer level, exclusive focus on end-product control using laboratory test results; lack of traceability (farm to folk approach), unbalanced investment in laboratory inspection capacity, and non-scientific basis for controls.

Principal Scientific Officer of National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) Karam Ahad showed pesticides residues in exportable horticultural crops and disclosed that every food commodity contained pesticide residues exceeding the maximum residues limits (MRL) set by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Mr Ahad said that sample results found that mango was found 78 per cent contaminated, exceeding 67 per cent of MRLs having 14 types of pesticides; onion 100 per cent contaminated, exceeding 67 per cent MRLs having 22 types of pesticides; tomato 100 per cent contaminated, exceeding 57 per cent MRLs having 15 different pesticides; red chillies 93 per cent contaminated, exceeding 57 per cent MRLs having nine kinds of pesticides; and apple 61 per cent contaminated, exceeding 44 per cent MRLs, detecting 12 pesticides.

He said that in some samples banned OCPs like DDTs, aldrin, and dieldrine had been detected. Mostly, endosulfan, diazinone, chloropyrifos, profenophos, cypermethrin and cyflutrin were found exceeding MRLs limit.

The NARC official recommended that extension workers should not work as promoters of a company product and strict quality control and adulteration checks should be ensured on pesticide products available in the market. At the government level, a comprehensive pesticide residues monitoring system should be established to deal with issues in a holistic matter.FAO Senior Adviser on Progrmame Development Dr Iftikhar Ahmad laid serious emphasis on the placement of regulatory framework. While the federation needs the pesticide act since it deals with international trade, one of the provinces should come forward and take lead towards the approval of the act, he said.

Presenting a review of pesticide residues in fruits in Pakistan, Mr Mubarak Ahmed, Director-General of Southzone Agricultural Research Centre of PARC at Karachi, said that the use of pesticides in Pakistan had increased 25 times of the quantity used since 1982.

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